This is the time-tested piece of advice I would have passed on to the beleaguered Senate President Bukola Saraki if he was not too far gone in his self- absorption, his overweening sense of entitlement, his predilection for cutting corners, and his Raskolnikov Complex, the delusion named for the central character in Dostoyevsky great novel, Crime and Punishment, that the rules do not apply to him.
Summoned to appear before the Code of Conduct Tribunal(CCT) in the investigation of some baffling inconsistencies in his declaration of assets, he spurns the order, dismisses the charges as false and frivolous, awards himself an acquittal, and seeks a court to block the Tribunal’s proceedings.
In response to this contumacy, the CCT issued a Bench warrant for his arrest. Saraki petitioned another court in a bid to void the warrant. Based on that petition, he again failed to show up before the CCT.
The CCT, Saraki charged, was being used to fight political opponents “to achieve through the back door what some people cannot get through democratic process.”
It is almost as if it was through the front door, and in a process emblematic of the best democratic practice, that he had emerged Senate president. I use the word “emerged” deliberately. By his own account, he had been in hiding until it was safe to join his fellow plotters on the floor of the National Assembly where he was canonised in a proceeding that seemed like the parliamentary equivalent of a street mugging.
His spokesperson warns that “we should not destroy our political institutions and heat up the polity for selfish reasons” in a desperate bid to settle political scores and nail imaginary enemies, adding gravely: “Let us all learn from history.”
Again, it is almost as if the process through which Saraki became Senate president was the quintessence of altruism and selflessness, and that it had, withal, brought down the nation’s political temperature from dangerously high to super normal.
The Tribunal’s summons, his spokesperson further said, amounted to an abuse of the rule of law which portends danger to the judicial system. Saraki affects the language of democracy but readily employs the tactics of a backroom fixer. He is ever so ready to remind everyone that he ranks third in the nation’s constitutional order. Yet his conduct is sometimes almost indistinguishable from that of a political tout.
Where is the noblesse oblige that should always inform the conduct of the holder of his exalted office?
Within hours of the CCT’s order enjoining Saraki to appear before it, a shadowy organisation calling itself Nigerians of Conscience Against Impunity rushed a full-page advertisement to the major newspapers, demanding that officials of the Code of Conduct Bureau resign immediately and face prosecution for “gross violations” of their office.
It was all so reminiscent of the shabby tactics Saraki’s surrogates in the Senate employed when his wife was invited for questioning by the EFCC in connection with some mysterious lodgments in her banking transactions. In what was clearly an act of petulant vindictiveness, they announced that the National Assembly was set to launch an investigation into reports that EFCC officials had corruptly enriched themselves with funds recovered from fraudsters.
In the wake of all this drama, another –or perhaps the same set — set of Saraki’s surrogates recruited a huge delegation to travel from Ilorin to Abuja for the express purpose of conferring on him a traditional title of dubious worth. The real purpose of the visitation, I suspect, was to create for the embattled Senate president the illusion of mass popularity and acceptability.
One of his proxies even has it that Saraki is being pursued because of his zero tolerance for corruption, in keeping with the notorious fact that if you fight corruption, corruption will fight you back.
Thus has Saraki continued to dig and dig with increasing fury since finding himself in a hole last June, in the hope that he can spend or bluff or bully or lawyer his way out of it. He deepened that hole yesterday when he failed to appear before the CCT which had issued a Bench warrant for his arrest.
One of his former comrades in the old PDP and one-time Minister of Works, Adeseye Ogunlewe, has warned that a situation in which the Senate president keeps making trips to the courts would not only “put Nigeria in bad light” but slow down activities in the National Assembly, which would in turn affect the nation.
Ogunlewe said if Saraki appeared before the Tribunal and was found guilty, Saraki would appeal the verdict to the High Court (sic). If his guilt was affirmed there, Saraki would take his case to the Court of Appeal. And if found guilty there, Saraki would head to the Supreme Court.
Prosecuting Saraki was therefore not a good move, according to Ogunlewe.”Imagine the amount of time that would be wasted and the effect it will have on the legislative work within that period.
If this intervention was designed to help Saraki keep the post of Senate president, it achieved the precise opposite. It makes a powerful case for Saraki’s immediate and unconditional resignation, regardless of his guilt or innocence.
A Senate president traipsing from one court to another would be a pathetic sight indeed, even if it is to answer traffic charges. But we are dealing with investigations into allegations of serious fraud. That the president of the Senate could figure in these allegations, however tangentially, should be cause for his resignation
Noblesse oblige enjoins such an official to resign at the merest intimation of sleaze, real or merely perceived, in his conduct.
In Saraki’s case, these intimations can no longer be ignored. There is the matter of the forged House Rules with which he procured the post of Senate president. There are the ongoing investigations into his wife’s finances. There is the charge that he made false entries in declaring his assets. And there is festering matter of how hundreds of depositors lost small fortunes in the family-owned bank that he ran aground, with nary a dent on his personal fortune.
Each of these issues should move a public official in a country that sets a high store by probity to step down. Together, they make a compelling case for Saraki’s resignation.
Saraki cannot be the public face of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He does not have the gravitas to steer through the legislature the agenda on which President Muhammadu Buhari ran and won. He lacks the moral standing to preside over the hearings at which Buhari’s nominees for important positions are confirmed or rejected.
Saraki, being Saraki, will most likely hang in there and hang tough.
That might serve him well if he can pull it off. But it cannot serve the larger national interest that he now claims to be espousing. Everyday that Saraki continues to wield the gavel diminishes the office of the Senate president and the stature of the Senate.
If he will not step down voluntarily, the Senate should, even if only from a sound instinct for self –preservation, ask him to go or face impeachment.
This national nightmare cannot continue for much longer.